At first, it doesn’t seem that hard to eat vegetarian in Val. We have a well stocked salad bar and vegetarian-friendly lighter-side options available at lunch and dinner. But let’s be honest eating salads can get boring, and how much plain brown rice can one person eat? So here’s a guide to keeping your vegetarian food interesting. But even if you’re not a vegetarian, keep reading for general tips to help mix up your Val meals.
Okay, so it’s relatively easy to eat a vegetarian breakfast.
Val has yogurt and many toppings: cranberries (tang with tang Mmmm… also one of my go-to desserts), raisins, granola, honey, cut-up apples, etc. I really like English muffins with melted butter, and don’t forget to try the changing breakfast options too! I am, recently, a big fan of the quiches. Caution: some of them have meat in them! If you like fresh fruit, make sure to check the very end of the salad bar. I’ve seen grapes, grapefruit (super yummy), berries (yay! Also, they go quickly!), and other fresh fruit there.
There are fried eggs—one of my favorite things at Val— on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays. If you want hot breakfast, just make sure you get to Val before 10am. I’m not a morning person, so I keep my eggs pretty simple—I just salt and pepper them. (Extra tip: for fresh ground pepper use the pepper mills at the salad bar). However, when I’m feeling a bit more ambitious, I like to make egg sandwiches. I suggest toasting whatever you’re using for bread (you don’t want it to get soggy). My favorite is a spinach-and-egg sandwich on a toasted English muffin, but there’s so many other options.
Also, if you wake up late and have to grab something quick on your way to class or missed hot breakfast hours. You should really consider making a hard-boiled egg sandwich. The first thing you’ll want to do is put the bread in the toaster, so that you can gather the rest of the food while it’s toasting. The hard-boiled eggs are usually in the lighter sider area during breakfast, but if you’re running really late, check the end of the salad bar. I personally, don’t like the chalky yokes of hard-boiled eggs, so that’s why I add the tomatoes slices from the sandwich bar. The tomato goo (aka the seedy and best part of the tomato) moistens the chalky yoke. Next, simply slice the hard-boiled egg, and then you’re ready to assemble: toast, eggs, tomato, toast. Wrap it in a napkin, and eat it on the go.
This is when breakfast gets a bit trickier. A good stand-by is oatmeal—and it’s warming for the winter months. Add toppings, and just make sure to eat it quickly. No one likes cold oatmeal. English muffins with peanut butter— at the end of the salad bar— are also really good. The toasted muffin melts the peanut butter into a nice creamy warm liquid, yum! There’s also butter substitute and great locally made jams. Look out for vegan options in the hot meal section, like French toast. And I almost forgot! We have soy and rice milk in the refrigerators by the desserts (this is where the Lactaid is kept too!).
The key is variety! Certainly there’s vegetarian food at Val, but after a while eating the same food is boring. So make sure to change things up! It helps makes eating at Val—dare I say it—exciting. This is especially true for breakfast, which is often skipped (*looks guiltily around room* especially by me).
LUNCH and DINNER
Okay, so I grouped lunch and dinner together. I’m sorry to any readers who believe in and defend a rigid distinction between the two meals, but I’m still lumping them together. I’m going to focus on items that are always available; however, many of the meals on rotation are vegetarian, and you should check them out.
I’ll be upfront with you. If you don’t like salads, a lot of this will be unhelpful. With that said, I’ve been told that my salads aren’t typical salads – I guess this is correct, if salads don’t usually have whole sweet potatoes (they taste great mashed up throughout a salad). Yet, despite how much I eat salads, I hate eating the same thing everyday. So here’s how to make your salads more interesting and filling.
First thing first, get one of those large salad bowls that are kept under the salad bar. Tip: check the end of the salad bar if you can’t find one. When I said first thing first, I meant it. The salad bowl is the first thing I pick up—it’s even great for non-salads.
For me, the best way to make my salad more interesting is to mix it with all the other food I’ll be eating—this is a bit odd because when I was little I didn’t like my food to touch, but things change. Once I have the salad bowl, I head to the lighter side section. This section doesn’t change all that much. On one hand, this is great because it’s super reliable. You always know that there will be a type of potato, brown rice and a different type of grain, some sort of cooked vegetable, and a vegetarian-friendly option. On the other hand this consistency can become boring. Once I’m here, I pile into my bowl both types of grains, the vegetable, changing vegetarian option, and when they have them, sweet potatoes. tip: pick favorite dishes or preferred options. It gives you something to look forward to. You never know, it could be just the thing you need to brighten up a hard day down the line. I personally look forward to seeing roasted beets (yum, thank you, Book and Plow) and lentil stew! Anyway, let some of the vegetables or hot meal’s juices/sauce get onto the rice to flavor it.
Next is the “actual salad” part of the salad bowl. There are leafy greens, toppings, and more toppings. Put on a lot of toppings. I add in wasabi peas, if I’m craving something spicy and crunchy. When I want to really spice up my salad I add a jalapeno pepper to two from the sandwich section. One thing I would advise against is making a set salad, and recreating it everyday. Say you like blue cheese, apples, pumpkins seeds, craisins, and mixed greensl. After a month of that, you might be feeling less hot about it—just something to consider.
The flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, and whatever those small cream-colored things, at the end of the salad bar, are the keys to keeping you salad interesting. They give added crunch, flavor, and nutrients. If you haven’t yet noticed, there are not that many nuts at Val. This is very important to keep people with nut allergies safe, but sadly nuts are a key component of many vegetarian and vegan diets. These add-ins make good substitutes.
Before I move on from salad, let me address dressings. First, you don’t overlook the prepared salads at the end of the salad bar. Because these salads are already dressed, mixing them into your salad is like adding a complex dressing that has had time to marinate. This is a great option because these salads change daily, so you can always add a different taste, and they’re conveniently at the end of the salad bar. Caution: not all of these salads are vegetarian or vegan. There’s also a whole assortment of dressings to try and oil and vinegars. If you want to mix it up a bit you can make your own dressing, using oil, vinegar, lemon juice (from the lemon wedges by the tea station), onions, fresh pepper, and other spices.
I love the sliced tomatoes when I first get back. Because it’s still tomato season, the tomatoes are nice and ripe (thank you, again, Book and Plow). These taste delicious with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper. It’s almost like a caprese salad, without the fresh mozzarella, but it still tastes great.
THE REST OF LINNER
Don’t overlook the soup. I know it’s hot now, but, as vegetarian, the soups are some of my favorite things at Val. This might be a little bit unconventional, but sometimes I even add a little bit of the black-bean soup to my salad. You just have to drain it a bit first. It is also pretty delicious over rice.
Other options: There’s pasta, and if you want more flavor the pizza seasonings can be a good addition to tomato sauce. Homemade pesto (found in the sandwich bar) also makes a good sauce. I even like to put it on brown rice and flax seeds. Don’t forget about sandwiches or the panini press. If you don’t mind waiting, the traditional line sometimes has vegetarian options, but not that many. With that being said, I love pierogies and will always wait to get even a second serving of them. And if you are a patient person (unlike me), you might want to check out the stir-fry station. Onions, mushrooms, and spinach make a really good stir-fry. Just make sure that the onions get translucent before adding other ingredients, and get a lot of spinach because it wilts down.
Most desserts are vegetarian, and Val serves clearly labeled vegan desserts. Still, here are some tips. Toast with butter (or butter substitute), sugar, and cinnamon really hits the spot, when you want something kind of sweet. There’s white sugar and cinnamon the waffles and brown sugar in a container at the end of the salad bar. If you’re feeling ambitious, you should try putting sliced apples, cinnamon, honey, and raisins in the panini press. Just makes sure to securely wrap it in the parchment paper.
And now I wish you good eats.